First responders stay prepared as coronavirus threat grows

Published 5:34 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

First responders in Vicksburg and Warren County are taking precautions and working to keep current on changes to either prevent or limit exposure to the corona COVID-19 virus when they make medical calls.

Warren County Emergency Management Director John Elfer said city and county emergency officials remain in contact with state and federal emergency and medical officials for updates on the disease.

“In our world, the bad thing is, we have to respond; we can’t sit at the house,” Warren County fire coordinator Jerry Briggs said. “So we may have to look at how much we expose ourselves and how many of us get exposed or potentially get exposed. It’s like the flu; you want to limit your exposure.”

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The situation with the virus “is just kind of a dynamic situation where things are changing,” Vicksburg Fire Chief Craig Danczyk said, pointing out precautions schools, nursing homes and other programs are taking.

“We’re waiting to see what else is going to happen,” he said.

Danczyk said fire department officials are stressing good hygiene like washing hands, and taking proper precautions when cleaning the fire stations, equipment, trucks and ambulances as one way to protect responders from the disease.

“Our (VFD) first responders do have protective gear, whether it’s masks, gloves, gowns, booties; we pick up sick people every day, whether it’s to take them to River Region or Jackson, like UMC, so that’s not going to stop,” he said.

“We may have to spend a little extra time making sure our equipment is clean and sanitized and then if we do pick up a patient that suspected, who does have those symptoms, maybe (take) some extra precautions like put a mask on them if they’re coughing and there’s a discharge of fluid from the mouth.”

Danczyk said first responders have to take care not to touch their faces and take other precautions to protect themselves.

He said the department’s supplies for its ambulance service are in good shape.

“There may be some items that are back-ordered, but I really feel good about our inventory, and we made a list of things and we may go ahead and order those things immediately, and hopefully it will be taken care of,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day, a lot of it is hygiene — wash your hands more often, wash them thoroughly,” he said. In common areas like kitchens and living rooms, he said, more attention needs to be placed on cleaning.

“We’re going to be exposed to sick people,” he said. “I think our people will continue to use those barriers — the gloves, the gowns — if they’re exposed, but I don’t think we’re going to reinvent the wheel and gown up on every call, because that wouldn’t be necessary.

“When it’s necessary, we’re going to do it,” he said, adding getting information on the patient will help responders “better protect ourselves, and better help us isolate that person from infecting others if they meet the criteria.”


Working together, communicating

Friday, about 80 people attended an informational meeting on the coronavirus. The meeting was organized by the Warren County Emergency Management Agency and held at the United Way of West Central Mississippi’s office.

“It was very informative. We had a lot of response agencies there; we had private businesses and industry there, and each agency went around the room discussing what they were doing,” Elfer said. “Everybody is on the same sheet of music; we had a health department representative there and we’re following CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidance.”

Each agency or department said their policy is if they have an employee come to work or if they have somebody call in and say they’ve been exposed (to the virus), they’re advising them to quarantine at home and notify their healthcare provider and then notify the EMA.

“But once they notify their healthcare provider, that’s going to trigger the state notification,” Elfer said. “We’re trying to get out in front of this thing. We just want to make sure everyone gets the information and they’re practicing all the right things the CDC’s putting out and the (state) Department of Health is putting out to minimize the spread of it.”


Latest figures

Friday afternoon, the Mississippi State Department increased the number of positive cases in Mississippi to six.

Three of the cases are in Forrest County; two men who traveled to Florida are self-isolating at home, and a 65-year-old woman has been hospitalized with the virus. Another case involves a woman in LeFlore County. She is self-isolating at home.

Two other cases are being investigated by officials who have not released information about those cases.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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